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BRICS summit: Fitting replies to contemporary challenges

Friday November 20 2020
Brics Putin

By Sergey Sayenko

Russian President Vladimir Putin on November 17, chaired a summit of the BRICS member states, an informal interstate association comprising Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa.

 This was  the 12th meeting of those heading the world's five fast-growing countries, that now account for 31 per cent of the entire global potential.

 Any time soon, the BRICS countries intend to bring this figure up to 50 per cent, which is all but real, since by 2020 their total GDP has already reached $21 trillion.

It is worth pointing out that the association is chaired by Russia this year, and the summit has been originally scheduled for July in St. Petersburg. But the coronavirus has upset the venue hosts' apple-cart, and the summit has to be held via video conference.

However, this fact has by no means pinched on its fruitful work. By the way, this was the third summit with Russia as its chairman, with the other having taken place in 2009 and 2015.

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Taking up the chairmanship from his Brazilian counterpart last year, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister and Russian BRICS emissary Sergey Ryabkov called the association "an archipelago of stability amid the turmoil of unpredictable and changing circumstances."

 This was said at a time when the world had not yet plunged into the quagmire of the coronavirus crisis, be it noted, but we soon realized how true the Russian diplomat's judgment turned out to be.

Today, there is probably no union left in the world that the COVID-19 pandemic has not tested to destruction. With undisguised anxiety does the world keep an eye on the peaks of strain in relations between economic giants, primarily the United States and China, as well as those only claiming geopolitical "leadership".

Amid this, the BRICS has endured both the coronavirus pandemic and its consequences. Representative of this were intensive negotiations and numerous Russia-launched initiatives as part of the current chairmanship round.

Let us recall that the motto of Russia's 2020 presidency is "BRICS Strategic Partnership for Global Stability, Shared Security and Innovative Growth."

According to Sergey Ryabkov, the 2020 Russian presidency yielded over 130 events, including more than 20 ministerial-level ones.

Besides, he said this year a number of humanitarian events were held involving a wide range of BRICS friends. Among them Ryabkov particularly noted the Friendship Cities and Local Government Cooperation Forum in Kazan.

 According to the Russian Deputy Foreign Minister, BRICS is open to interaction with other countries, while its expanded membership is not a priority now and hasn't been discussed at the current summit.

According to heads of the BRICS countries, this year's Russian chairmanship has become a major landmark in the association's development.

And despite the calamitous pandemic making its own adjustments to the international agenda, the Russian side has successfully met performance targets and launched new projects and initiatives to develop and deepen cooperation between the five countries for the short and long term.

However, there is no doubt that the BRICS countries' key issue today is combating the COVID-19 pandemic.

All the leaders of the association's member states emphasized this in their forum speeches: Russian President Vladimir Putin, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Chinese President Xi Jinping, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa and Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro.

 The BRICS heads of state urged to consolidate efforts in their joint fight against COVID-19 and in developing a relevant vaccine.

Vladimir Putin particularly said in his speech that in general, the association members dealt swiftly with the main 2020 challenge and made the necessary efforts to crack down on the virus. The Russian leader specially focused on the experience of China, which was first to face COVID-19 and demonstrated a successful fight against it.

President Putin suggested speeding up the creation of a BRICS center for vaccine development and research. In turn, Chinese leader Xi Jinping proposed "to convene a BRICS symposium on traditional medicine to explore its role in coronavirus prevention and treatment". Vladimir Putin was fully supportive of this initiative by his Chinese counterpart.

Apart from the joint fight against coronavirus, the BRICS countries' leaders addressed issues of cooperation in areas like economy and trade, banking, joint anti-terrorism efforts, health, energy, and also coordinated their positions ahead of the upcoming November 21-22 G20 summit.

It should be noted that the summit witnessed other participants make spotlight presentations, apart from the heads of state.

 Among them were Russian Security Council Secretary Nikolai Patrushev, new President of the BRICS Development Bank Markus Troiho, President of the Russian Chamber of Commerce and Industry Sergey Katyrin, head of the VEB state corporation Igor Shuvalov, who spoke on the 2020 outcome of the BRICS Interbank Cooperation Mechanism.

In turn, Nikolai Patrushev elaborated on the results of the 10th International Meeting of High Representatives for Security Issues held on September 17 this year. According to him, the meeting saw a comprehensive exchange of views on the key aspects of the global, regional and national security agenda, including strategic stability, security in the use of information and communication technologies, as well as the fight against corruption and drugs.

Following the summit, the BRICS leaders approved the joint Moscow Declaration reflecting general assessments of the global situation, summarizing the results of Russia's chairmanship, and outlining strategic pathways and long-term guidelines for cooperation within BRICS. The heads of state also adopted two other important documents: the anti-terrorist strategy and the Updated Strategy for BRICS Economic Partnership 2025.

At the end of the forum, Vladimir Putin handed over BRICS chairmanship to India and wished every success to Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. President Putin also expressed hope that the associations' next summit will be held in the usual personal communication format between leaders of the BRICS member states.

Sergey Sayenko is an international observer who has written extensively on Europe and the Balkan politics